‘Use the crisis to promote transparency’ says International Budget Partnership

2 Jun 20

Budget transparency is more important than ever amid the Covid-19 pandemic, but most governments fail to reach a decent standard of openness, an expert and advocate for accountability has told PFF.

 
 

Vivek Ramkumar, senior director of policy at the International Budget Partnership, said the scale of government responses to coronavirus and its economic impact increase the need for public scrutiny of public finances.

“All these massive expenditure measures that governments are announcing face risks of misuse and mismanagement,” Ramkumar said. “Many of these measures are being expedited – understandably so – but often they are having to bypass normal checks and balances.”

He said he was particularly concerned about the oversight of special funds that have been set up to distribute money quickly, as well as government openness surrounding the levels and risk of ballooning public debt.

However, he added that the economic crisis caused by Covid-19 could provide the impetus for reforms.

“Even before the pandemic hit, there were many crises that were developing around the world – including huge protests in France, the Middle East and Latin America,” Ramkumar said.

“A lot of that anger was from not having a voice on the decisions impacting their lives.

Countries that have focused more upon budgeting practices have stronger democratic engagement, better equity and better development outcomes. There’s definitely a correlation there, although it’s not as simple as one leading directly to the other.”

The IBP recently published the findings of its open budget survey, which found that four out of five of the 117 governments assessed did not meet the partnership’s minimum standards. “It tells us a story of leaders and laggers – countries taking good steps forward, only to take one back,” said Ramkumar.

“There are examples of good practice from almost every region of the world,” he noted, citing particularly strong recent improvements in Guatemala, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine.

“But the score is still way below what we regard as the minimum standard,” he added.

Ramkumar said the survey highlighted “missed opportunities”, with a large number of budget documents never published openly for the public to scrutinise

“It’s possible for governments to make progress on transparency. The tools are at hand, international standards are clear, and technical and financial assistance is widely available. What’s missing is political will from a large number of governments.”

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